The European commission warned that a no-deal Brexit was now “likely” following the third defeat of Theresa May’s deal in the Commons on Friday. Without a deal, the default Brexit date is 12 April. But a range of scenarios remain open. EU leaders will meet at an extraordinary summit on 10 April to listen to the prime minister’s new plan – if there is one.
Here are the possible next steps:
Downing Street is unable to indicate a way forwardThe leaders had said they would consider a lengthy extension to article 50 if the withdrawal agreement was rejected again. They said, however, that they would expect “the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward” before 12 April “for consideration by the European council”. If Downing Street is in complete paralysis or it rejects any solution that might emerge from the Commons’ second session of indicative votes on Monday, then the EU’s leaders will be in a spot when they convene on 10 April. The decision will be whether to cut the UK loose, with the expectation that the concomitant no-deal chaos will drag the UK government swiftly back to the negotiating table, or possibly appeal to MPs over the heads of the government. Brussels could offer a lengthy extension with conditions – and let parliament decide what to do next. EU countries do not want to be on the wrong end of the inevitable blame game.
Parliament may look chaotic. But it is inching towards a resolutionSimon Jenkins
Read moreThe Commons backs a softer BrexitIf the Commons was to back a permanent customs union in its indicative votes on Monday, the EU could “within days” revise the political declaration, the non-binding outline of the future relationship, to set the two negotiating teams on that course. The wording will not be detailed. The negotiations over the terms of a customs union will be hard-fought when they come. Labour has said it would want the British government to have a say in EU trade policy in such a situation. This is likely to have a pretty messy collision with reality – but that is for a later date once the UK is out. If the Commons ratified the withdrawal agreement on the basis that the political declaration had been revised, the leaders could still agree at the summit to a limited extension until 22 May. This would also be an option if the prime minister manages to get her withdrawal agreement ratified at the fourth time of asking without changes to the political declaration.
The Commons backs a second referendum or the prime minister calls a general electionBoth of these scenarios would require a lengthy extension beyond elections for the European parliament. At the summit on 10 April, leaders would decide on the length. Any extension to article 50 in this scenario would be no shorter than nine months, taking Britain’s membership of the EU up to 31 December 2019. An extension up to the end of March is far more likely – with the UK’s first day outside the bloc landing on April Fools’ Day 2020 - and anything up to 21 months is possible, keeping the UK in the bloc until 2021.